The Dawn of Swiss Poster History

In Switzerland, as in Germany, the image poster had established itself by 1900. Commissions for artistic advertisements only started to be made at the end of the 19th century in Switzerland. Before, the poster was merely a means to announce a message, usually in the form of a hand-typeset notice poster in letterpress printing technique.

Swiss painters followed the Parisian example of Jules Chéret and used the style of the artistically refined advertisement from France. The Western Swiss painters Eugène Grasset and Théophile A. Steinlen became pioneers of the new medium.

In 1891, Ferdinand Hodler created just a small sketch for his first notice poster as a brief for the typographer. He started creating image posters in 1896/97, when he received commissions from a private business and from the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft (Zurich art association). He spent a lot of time on both commissions, but in the end they were not realised. The first image poster by Hodler that was printed was the poster for the 19th exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1904.

As in other countries, the first commissions for modern image posters in Switzerland were given to painters, and the likes of Ferdinand Hodler and Cuno Amiet were not too proud to address this simple art form. They advertised exhibitions, shooting matches, gymnastics tournaments and transport, always using stone lithography. Hodler’s monumental style influenced by symbolism had an effect not only on his paintings but also on his fin-de-siècle poster style.

As in most of Hodler’s poster designs, most Swiss artist posters of the first phase from about 1890 to 1920 displayed motifs from paintings, with a persuasive connection between the image and the lettering. Some of the most compelling poster designs of this kind were those of the young Augusto Giacometti, which were in the style of the works of Eugène Grasset, and those of Burkhard Mangold. However, the first generation of Swiss poster artists was greatly influenced by Hodler’s paintings and not by his few image posters. With the exception of Ferdinand Hodler, the style of the Art Nouveau movements that were dominant in France, England, Austria and Germany had no great influence on Swiss art.

Vintage posters from our collection